Pretty wasn’t really all that pretty to look at. She was just a white chicken. But she was a special white chicken. We were new hobby farmers, having bought a couple of acres of semi-rural land with an old house on it. The property had a new henhouse, but it was empty. It needed chickens.
I found tenants for the henhouse in a rather unusual way. I drove around until I saw a sign that said “Eggs,” at the end of a driveway I assumed that if the people were selling eggs, they must have chickens, so I knocked on the door and asked if they had any birds they could sell me. I came away with a dozen fertilized eggs, a small white chicken – maybe a bantie – and a big rooster who bullied every chicken that came to live with us. Of course, we named him Bully.
The little white bantie was pretty so, without straining my brain to be original, I called her Pretty. My flock of stragglers, chickens I managed to hatch and others I bought, had variety and each bird had a name, but Pretty was the first and she was always special. I think the chicks in this photo of about 33 years ago may have been some of Pretty’s babies.
Pretty was very friendly. When I came near, she ran over to me and crouched down so I could pick her up. I think she liked being held and petted. Later when I had other chickens in the henhouse and sometimes had to separate them (if some banties were brooding a clutch of eggs, or if some old biddy was establishing a new pecking order), Captain Gary built a shelter with a perch so these chickens could be under cover and in their own chicken-wire pen. But at night the pen had to be closed up with a big sheet of plywood so the raccoons wouldn’t kill the chickens. They certainly tried, many times.
At dusk, when I could see from the house that the chickens were up on their perch, ready for the night, I would go down to the pen to close them in. Pretty always jumped down from her perch and ran to the pen’s gate to meet me. I picked her up, petted her, told her goodnight and put her back on the perch, and there she stayed until I came back to remove the plywood in the morning.
In those days when Captain Gary was away commercial fishing, my dad drove up island to visit me for a couple of days now and then. One day after supper I told my dad, “I have to go close the chickens in, but watch this – Pretty will jump down and come to the gate to meet me when she hears the house door open.”
My dad was dubious, but watched in amazement as Pretty jumped down from her perch the moment I opened the house door to go down to the pen. He saw Pretty run to meet me at the gate, saw me pick her up and pet her, saw me put her back on the perch and saw how she stayed put while I put the plywood in front of the whole row of chickens.
All the squabbly chickens who had their pecking order figured out, had long since died and gone to pecking order “henven,” but Pretty had lived on for several years.Then one day I noticed that Pretty seemed to be sick. She got sicker and sicker, and I said to Captain Gary, “You have to go put her out of her misery.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it,” he said, “but not today. Maybe she’ll get better.” But the poor bird got sicker. I nagged the captain, and he always found an excuse not to do the deed (he loved the chicken too, but would never admit it). Finally, I stomped out of the house and took the axe to the henhouse. I put the axe by the door and went inside to get Pretty. I was crying so much I didn’t know if I could aim the axe to chop her head off, but she wasn’t struggling anyway. I was about to do the deed when the captain came over and quietly took the axe from me. I held poor Pretty and she was dispatched to her own henven. And there by the henhouse, the captain blinked hard as he hugged me and I cried over a chicken.
But just imagine, a plain white chicken being remembered for over 30 years.
Oh, and you may be wondering what happened to Bully, that very large rooster. He went commercial fishing that next summer. I heard he was very tasty.